Archive for April, 2009

Vanishing Species – Indian Giant Flying Squirrels

An article by Mohan Pai

Indian Giant Flying Squirrels
Petaurista philippensis

The Flying Squirrels are actually gliding mammals incapable of sustained flights.

The term flying is somewhat misleading, since flying squirrels are actually gliding mammals incapable of sustained flight. Steering is accomplished by adjusting tautness of the patagium, largely controlled by a small cartilaginous wrist bone. The tail acts as a stabilizer in flight, much like the tail of a kite, and as an adjunct airfoil when “braking” prior to landing on a tree trunk.

Though their life expectancy is only about six years in the wild, flying squirrels often live between 10 and 15 years in captivity. This difference is due to these creatures being important prey animals. Predation mortality rates in sub-adults are very high. Predators include arboreal snakes, raccoons, nocturnal owls, martens, fishers, coyotes, and the domestic house cat. They are also nocturnal.
Indian Giant Flying Squirrel is the common large flying squirrel found over most of peninsular India – all other flying squirrels are restricted to the Himalayas and the Northeast and one is restricted to the Western Ghats. Its coat varies from coffee-brown to a predominantly grey colour.
Deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen forests of Goa, Maharashtra, parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.

Red Giant Flying Squirrel
Petaurista petaurista
This dark red species is also called the Indian Flying Squirrel. Its elastic skin, which it uses to glide, is attached from wrist to ankle. It has large black-ringed, liquid brown eyes. The long slender tail is furred but not bushy and is carried curved on the back.
This squirrel runs up to the top-most branches of a tree before launching into a glide that can easily extend up to 100 m. While passing overhead it makes a noise like rushing wind. It has a monotonous call, which sounds like someone exhaling sharply.
Restricted to forests only, this squirrel is not found near human habitations. It inhabits the Himalayan foothills from J&K to Assam and Manipur.

Wooly Flying Squirrel
Eupetaurus cinereus

This is a high altitude flying squirrel with long silken hair, rather than wooly hair as its name suggests. Larger than the genus Petaurista, it also looks bulkier because of its dense fur. Its blue-grey coat is uniformly coloured, except for a paler tip on its long, heavily furred tail.
The Wooly flying squirrel does not hibernate like the other Himalayan flying squirrels. It reportedly prefers rocky caves to trees.
Coniferous, dwarf rhododendron and juniper forests, and the mountain steppe in northern J&K (Hunza, Gilgit) and Sikkim (2,800 m and above).

Reference: A Field Guide to Indian Mammals by Vivek Menon, Wikipedia
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Vanishing Species – Butterflies & Moths

An article by Mohan Pai



Butterflies & Moths

Malabar Banded Swallowtail

The metamorphosis from caterpillar to pupa to butterfly remains one of the most enigmatic feats of nature.


Butterflies and moths belong to the order Lepidoptera which is a Greek word for ‘scales’ and ‘wing’, the most obvious feature that separates them from other order of insects is their scaled wings. There are around 1,60,000 different known species of butterfly and moth across all corners of the globe and only 10 per cent of these are butterflies. They can survive in an incredibly diverse range of habitats, from frozen Arctic tundra to high-altitude mountain slopes to humid rainforests. It is perhaps this diversity and adaptability that has enabled the Lepidoptera to survive on the planet for the last 140 million years. The first Lepidoptera were primitive moths and butterflies evolved around 40 million years ago. Butterflies and moths are members of the insect class, sharing the same key features of three pairs of legs and three body parts: head, thorax and abdomen. In addition to these features, Lepidoptera also have two pairs of wings, the forewings and hindwings, which are covered with scales. These scales reflect light, revealing the colours and patterns that are so important when identifying species. The pair of antennae on the head of the butterfly is the primary sense organ, receiving smells, pheromones and vibrations. A butterfly’s proboscis is its tongue, enabling it to suck up food, nutrients and moisture. It is hollow and contains two parallel tubes; the end bears the taste sensors. Different species will have different lengths of proboscis: some members of the hawk moth family have proboscis that exceeds their own body length and is capable of piercing fruit or beehives, whereas others such as the luna moths, have no mouth parts at all and cannot feed as adults. Another organ is the labial palps, used to clean the proboscis and eyes and to sense and taste food. The head also bears a pair of compound eyes, capable of detecting colour and movement. The jointed legs contain sensors at the ‘feet’ which enable butterfly to identify the plant it has just landed on, particularly important for females that need to lay eggs on a specific host plant. Probably the first point of observation when identifying a butterfly or moth is the colour and patterning that is displayed on its wings. When a butterfly is in flight this can be particularly difficult to do; it is when at rest that we get the opportunity to closely examine markings of a particular species. The majority of butterflies hold their wings closed above their bodies, leaving only the underside visible; some will hold their wings out flat, perhaps sunning themselves, affording us a glimpse of their brightly coloured upper side.

Butterfly or Moth ?

In some respects the differences between butterflies and moths may seem rather arbitrary. Although moths are regarded as butterflies’ less colourful, less attractive cousins, there are great many highly coloured daytime-flying moths.

The Atlas moth -world’s largest moth.

Conversely, a large number of butterflies can appear rather dull and insignificant, and are often mistaken for moths. There are, however, a number of general features that separate moths from butterflies. Butterflies are diurnal – daytime – fliers, whereas the great majority of moths are nocturnal, flying and (if appropriate) feeding at night. They also differ structurally; when resting, the wings of butterflies are usually held together upwards over the back of the body, where as moths will fold their wings flat across the body, the hindwing tucked beneath the forewing. In flight, the wings of the moth are ‘coupled’ together with the use of special bristles on the hindwing which catch hold of the forewing, Butterflies lack this feature; instead their hindwing is expanded underneath the forewing, providing support with which to fly. The antennae of each also differ; butterflies have very slender antennae which are clubbed at the end; moths lack this clubbing, having either slim or feathered antennae.
Luna Moth

Butterflies also tend to have more slender bodies, whereas some moths can be very stocky and broad in shape .There are, of course, exceptions to all these rules: the colourful daytime moths of the Uranidae family and the Australian Regent Skipper butterfly with its moth-like wing-coupling device are just two examples among many.


There are four stages in the life-cycle of all Lepidopteras – egg, caterpillar, pupa and butterfly – and each stage is vital. Butterflies are not simply attractive pollinators of Garden flowers; their ultimate goal is to mate and successfully reproduce; likewise, caterpillars must not only feed and store up energy, they also have to ensure that they are not the victims of hungry predators. Laid singly, in small groups or in huge numbers, eggs can take either a few days or several weeks to hatch. They can be one of a number of shapes, colours and even sizes; some eggs are tiny, others surprisingly large. Eggs are usually laid on specific host plants by the female butterfly, which walks across the plant surface using the sensors in her legs to determine it is the correct one. Less fussy eggs can be released in flight, particularly those whose caterpillars feed upon grass. Once the egg hatches, the newly emerged caterpillar begins by eating the hard shell, then it gets to work eating its host plant. Caterpillars also appear in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colours. They are particularly vulnerable to predatory birds, other insects and lizards are among the many animals that prey on these butterfly larvae, and so there appearance is often determined by their need to protect themselves. Poisonous caterpillars may appear brightly coloured to ward off attack, or bear aggressive spines that can irritate if touched or ingested. The caterpillars of the Arctid moth family are particularly hairy and collectively referred to as ‘wooly bears’. Some caterpillars display very unusual and somewhat aggressive features, such as horns, alarming tail whips and false eyespots. Many Swallowtail caterpillars have an organ called an osmatarium, rather like an inflatable horn, which releases a repulsive scent. The caterpillars of the Puss moth has a number of these aggressive attributes, and can also spit formic acid for good measure. Many other caterpillars adopt rather more passive but equally successful methods of protecting themselves from predators, either adopting camouflage or simply hiding within or beneath the foliage. Caterpillars spend most of their time eating, and as their bodies grow they slough off their skin, rather like a snake. Most caterpillars will shed their skin several times before they are large enough to begin pupating. For most species, this means that the final skin-shedding reveals not another caterpillar but its chrysalis or cocoon. For others, particularly moths, the chrysalis is spun from single strand of silk, encasing the caterpillar in a protective shell so that it can begin its transformation. Once the caterpillar has revealed or spun its chrysalis, it enters the pupa stage. As a pupa, it is extremely vulnerable to predators since it is completely immobile; consequently pupae will adopt a number of strategies to protect themselves. Most pupae are incredibly well camouflaged, resembling dry leaves, twigs, fresh buds or even bird droppings such as those of the Swallowtail family. Some pupa casings are covered with spines while others containing a poisonous butterfly will advertise their inedible status. Many species pupate underground, within plant roots or even inside ants’ nests, such as the Large Blue butterfly pupa. It usually takes around two weeks for pupation to complete, although some species can take longer – several moths, or even two years, depending on external circumstances.

Owl Butterfly


The lifespan of a butterfly varies from species to species. Some live for less than a week, others long enough to migrate through the winter months. But the typical adult butterfly will, during its lifetime, fly, feed, mate and migrate.Feeding butterflies use their probocis to suck up liquid nutrients such as flower nectar, tree sap, rotten fruit juices, honeydew, blood and faecal liquid and even in some cases, animal tears. Some male butterflies, such as the Blue Triangle, will feed from the mud found in puddles or on riverbanks, probably seeking extra nutrients necessary for reproduction.Reproduction can only take place when butterflies of the same species successfully identify one another. This can be particularly tricky when different species look similar or when environment makes it awkward to spot a potential mate. Some butterflies are dependent upon phenomones or scent to entice their partners, others will engage in elaborate courtship displays which communicate compatibility as well as general suitability. Mating pairs will clasp together, either landed or in air, and can remain attached for anything from twenty minute to twenty-four hours. The male then usually heads off in search of a new mate while the female begins to search for a suitable place to deposit her eggs.


The relationship between butterflies and their habitat is crucial; particular habitats are chosen by individual species because they have evolved adaptations suitable to those habitats.All Lepidoptera need warmth to provide them with the energy to fly; therefore butterflies are found in sunny, tropical and temperate regions. They will need specific foods both for breeding and for the adults to feed. Typical habitats will therefore be places such as open woodlands, where the sunlight can penetrate and where there are plentiful flowers, or meadows and grassland, heathland and coasts with their specific flora, or mountain slopes. Powerful butterflies will survive in forest or woodland canopies, living up at the treetops; weak fliers prefer to stay closer to the ground amongst shrubs and trees which will provide protection from winds. Butterflies found in woodland will often be coloured red, brown or grey, so they resemble dry leaves or bark; others are bright green, like fresh leaves. Butterflies are dependent upon these particular places, and the loss of native habitats can only have dire consequences for their numbers.With so many potential predators, butterflies and moths employ a number of techniques to aid survival. Many species are inedible, their caterpillars feed fro host plants that contain poisons, storing these in their bodies so that the adult butterfly can benefit from the chemicals. Poisonous butterflies advertise the fact to birds, lizards and other insects with their brightly coloured and patterned wings. Many edible butterflies take advantage of these poisonous species by copying their appearance; this technique is known as mimicry. Butterfly will mimic others for one of two reasons; either to appear to be poisonous when not, as does the non-poisonous mimic of the Monarch, the Viceroy, or to emphsize their own poisonous status.Edible species that do not mimic use other tactics. Many will adopt camouflage as an effective technique to avoid becoming prey; the Indian Leaf butterfly is an excellent example of this, as are a number of moths, including the Brindled Beauty.

Mud puddling – Indian Swallowtails

Others will use their wing markings to confuse or frighten predators. Distinctive markings suggest an even larger predator at hand; the owl face seen by the enemy is simply the wings of the Owl butterfly, the snake’s head among the leaves is actually the hooked forewing of the Atlas moth. Eyespots are particularly effective way of confusing and warding off enemies; Some butterflies, such as the Blue Morpho, have a solid colour on their upper side but large eyespots from below which startle a predator when they are flashed unexpectedly. Butterflies that use eyespots to frighten their enemies, such as the Peacock, can often find themselves with ragged wings as a result of inquisitive pecks from confused birds. Although dangerous, these pecks warn the Peacock of danger, giving it time to fly away.

The Big and the Small Butterflies

Butterflies come in various sizes. The smaller Blues are no larger than afingernail and the largest Swallowtail is larger than the smallest birds. The timiest butterfly in the world are the Grass Jewel (wingspan 15-22 mm) and the Tiny Grass Blue (wingspan 16-22 mm). Both these butterflies occur in peninsular India. The world’s largest butterfly, Queen Alexandras’s Birdwing, Ornithoptera alexandrae measures about 250 mm between its wingtips. Among the Indian butterflies, Southern Birdwing is the largest with a wingspan of 140-190 mm.


With such a large number of of different species of butterfly and moth in existence, it is hard to believe that they are seriously threatened. However, a number of fascinating and beautiful butterflies are in peril, from either habitat change or over zealous collectors. Loss of native habitats is the most serious threat. On a large scale, massive deforestation, such as in Central America and Asia, is affecting many different species. However, even on a small scale, many butterflies rely on plants that we consider weeds, such as nettles, thistles or dandelions. The use of pesticides can have a harmful effect on some species, and pesticides that target destructive butterflies, such as the Gypsy moth, are also responsible for the near-eradication of other, innocent species. There are some conservation measures in place: many species are legally protected from collectors; others have been reintroduced into native environments. However, many butterflies and moths remain under threat of extinction.

Indian Butterfly Families
The Swallowtails Papilionidae

he swallowtail butterfly family, consists of about 550 species of which 84 are found in India. Most swallowtails are large, brilliantly coloured and extremely beautiful.

Butterflies from this family are commonly found in both tropical and temperate habitats.

The Brush-footed Butterflies

The Brush-footed family is the largest butterfly family in the world, consisting of several thousand species. The butterflies are medium to large sized and can be extremely diverse in nature. In India there are about 480 species from this family. This family includes the subfamily Danainae, the milkweed butterflies.

The Whites and Yellows

Butterflies from this family are predominantly White or Yellow in colour along with black markings.Their flight is rapid and they move erratically from plant to plant. 81 Species from this family are found in India.

The Metalmarks
The metalmark butterflies get their name from the small metallic looking spots that are commonly found on their wings. In India these butterflies are commonly known as the Punches & Judies. There are about 1000 species of metalmark butterflies worldwide of which only 16 are found in India.

The Gossamer-Winged Butterflies

Butterflies of this family are small, mostly under 5 cm. Their flight is rapid and erratic and very close to the ground. Subfamilies include The Blues, Coppers, Hairstreaks and Harverstes.

The Skipper Butterflies

A family of generally small butterflies with short stout bodies and a characteristic rapid, skipping flight. They actively feed on flower nectar and most species have proboscises that are much longer than butterflies of any other family. Skippers are very difficult to identify in the field and require close examination and study for specie level identification.

Acknowledgement: ‘A Concise Guide to Butterflies & Moths’ by Elizabeth Balmer, ‘Butterfles of Peninsular India’ by Krushnamegh Kunte,

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Vanishing Species – Sambar Deer

An article by Mohan Pai

The Indian Sambar Deer

Cervus unicolor niger

The largest Indian deer that carries the grandest of horns.


The Sambar is the largest Indian deer and carries the grandest horns. Height at shoulder can be up to 150 cm. A full grown stag weighs between 230 – 325 kg. The male members of this species have antlers that can grow up to a length of 1 m. The coat is coarse and shaggy, males have a mane about the neck and throat. The general color is brown with grayish tinge. Females are lighter in tone. Older stags become very dark, almost black.Sambar is found in the wooded areas of India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka. It is the most common deer species in the world, covering many countries in Asia. It is also one of the larger members of the deer family. Their population is large and spread to almost every corner of India.

Sambar prefers staying in the forested hill-sides preferably near cultivation. They are almost nocturnal, feeding mainly at night and retiring by daybreak. Their diet is mainly grass, leaves, various kinds of wild fruit. The capacity of so heavy an animal to move silently through dense jungle is amazing. Sambar takes to water readily and swims with the body submerged, only the face and the antlers showing above surface. These animals have a life expectancy ranging between 16 – 20 years.
Their breeding period is mainly during the months of November and December. The gestation period is 6 months. The males by this time have shed their antlers. A new pair start growing almost immediately. It is during this period of their life cycles when they are seen less frequently. The males mostly lead solitary lives and are rarely seen associating with each other, except on some occasions during the rutting season. Sambar stags fight for territory and attempt to attract hinds by vocal and olfactory display. The stag’s harem is limited to a few hinds.
They are the favorite prey species of the tiger. The Sambar has extremely sharp senses of hearing and smell. Its alarm call which is a loud “dhonk” is taken very seriously, unlike that of the spotted or barking deer, by anyone interested in knowing the whereabouts of a predator. A repeated call is accepted as a definite indicator.

Pic courtesy:
These deer are seldom far from water and, although primarily of the tropics, are hardy and may range from sea level up to high elevations such as the mixed coniferous/deciduous forest zone in the Himalayan Mountains sharing its range with the Himalayan musk deer. These deer are found in habitats ranging from tropical seasonal forests (tropical dry forests and seasonal moist evergreen forests), subtropical mixed forests (conifers, broadleaf deciduous, and broadleaf evergreen tree species) to tropical rainforests. Their range covers a vast majority of territory that is classified as tropical rainforest, but their densities are probably very low there. In these areas, the deer probably prefer clearings and areas adjacent to water. In Taiwan, sambar along with sika deer have been raised on farms for their antlers, which they drop annually in April to May.
This deer has been seen congregating in large herds in protected areas such as national parks and reserves in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The subspecies of Indian sambar in India and Sri Lanka are the largest of the genus with the largest antlers. Populations that inhabit the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo seem to have the smallest antlers in proportion to their body size.

References: The Book of Indian Animals by S. H. Prater, Wikipedia


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A Primer of Ecology

An article by Mohan Pai

(This is the last chapter from my book “The Western Ghats” published in 2005)

“There is nothing in nature to prove that it cares more for our human species than daffodils. We may one day vanish as quickly and as radically as thousands of other breeds before us. Mother nature has no mama’s darlings…when the balance of nature is threatened, it always finds a way to restore that balance, at whatever cost. If endangered by us, nature will strike back and show no more concern for Michaelangelo, Shakespeare or Mozart than for daffodils. We are dealing here with an overwhelming force, that of life itself and we know next to nothing about it. The only thing we know is — nature has no favourite among species.

Romain Grey  in ” Vanishing Species”



How to destroy a fragile ecosystem


10 Easy Steps

Ecosystems such as the Western Ghats which have global significance, are classified as HOT SPOTS. Globally, about 18 hot spots have been identified. These spots are extremely rich in species, have high endemism, and are under constant threat. Hotspot areas are particularly rich in floral wealth and endemism, not only in flowering plants but also in reptiles, amphibians, swallow-tailed butterflies, and some mammals. These
are extremely fragile biosystems and need to be nurtured and protected for the sake of the environmental well-being of the people. However, we are witnessing a mindless destruction of these systems.

The 10 EASY steps adopted for the destruction process are as follows:

1. Destroy as much as natural forest as possible by clear felling. Plant monoculture (teak, eucalyptus, acacia, etc.) in the name of afforestation.
2. Build dams for irrigation and power. In the process, destroy thousands and thousands hectares of natural forest. Allow the area to be submerged and displace the tribals and local populat ion. Promise resettlement – over the years keep promising – make trauma of displacement more painful. In the process, also kill a vast number of endemic species in the area, so that they are lost forever. Also decimate wild life of the area by submersion or fragmentation of their habitat. Blasting of rocks, the
rumble of machinery, the incursions by human help greatly in reducing the fauna in the Ghats.
3. Allow encroachment in the forest area and then legalise it through legislation.
4. Start large-scale mining operations within the forests. Apart from destroying the habitat complex of highly threatened flora and fauna, it will result in high degree of pollution of the rivers and land surrounding water course. The forests will be replaced with heaps of mined waste. It will also effectively kill and re duce the aquatic fauna. There will be a decline in agricultural productivity due to deposition of mine tailing.
5. Establish large-scale paper mills and plywood units by clearing large tracts of prime forest land and allow them a free hand with the forest timber.
6. Install an Atomic Power Plant right in the midst of the forest again by destroying an immense amount of prime forests. Ignore the hazards it entails for the area.7. Build Railways through the thick forest and cause as much damage as possible through clearing the prime forests and
8. Clear large tracts of natural forests for cash crops like coffee, cardamom, tea, spices, etc.
9. Protect poachers and smugglers – offer them political patronage so that they can kill with impunity thousands of tuskers for Ivory and other endangered animals for their skins; smuggle out millions of tonnes of valuable timber.
10. Pass on this knowledge to your children so that whatever green patches may be left could be effectively eliminated in the end.

What is ECOLOGY ?

All life on the earth is interrelated and interconnected in someway or the other. Living organisms are dependent upon their physical environment – the land, water, air.The study of the interrelationship between plants, animals, and the environment is called ECOLOGY.One of the fundamental aspects in ecology that helps us understand the interrelationship between plants and animals, animals and animals and plants, animals and human beings, is their requirement of food.Food chains & food-web.Green plants are the primary producers of food. They make simple carbohydrates during the process of photosynthesis, with the help of carbon dioxide and water by utilisation of the energy received from the Sun. When herbivore animals eat plants, they get energy through this food. When they are eaten by carnivore, the latter get the energy required for their life activities. For example: grass —> grass hopper —-> frog. This is a simple food chain. Now, if a frog is eaten by a snake, and the snake by an eagle, it becomes a complex food chain. Several such food chains exists in nature. An interconnected network of different food chain that occurs among inhabitants of a particular natural habitat is called food-web. The food-web is a delicate network of interrelationship between the species involved, representing a balanced and self-contained living system. Destruction of any one link in this food-web will have an adverse impact on the other or the entire system itself. For example if the carnivores like tigers and leopards are exterminated, the population of the deer will increase unchecked and this in turn would destroy the vegetation more rapidly, giving no time for plants to regenerate.

Interrelationships in nature take many forms – plants and vegetation provide home for animals; insects and birds pollinate flowers; animals help the dispersal of seeds of plants; parasites infest plants or animals. Some are beneficial associations between organisms (symbiosis) and others are not. There are also nature’s cleanup crew – the crow, the eagle, the hyena, and others who act as scavengers and bacteria aiding in decomposing the dead which play an important role in returning organic and inorganic components of dead animals and plants back to nature, to be used and reused by subsequent living organisms.

Nature provides a very complex, yet balanced, interrelationship between plants and animals. Together with the biogeochemical cycles such as water cycle, carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, mineral cycle, etc., recycling essential elements between living organisms and the environment; all life on the earth is interconnected. It is necessary to understand these ecological relationships to appreciate the importance of conservation of animals and plants and the non-living resources that nature has provided on our planet earth.

Biosphere & Biomes

Life on the earth may have begun to evolve some 3,500 million years ago. Today there are over half-a-million variety of plants and a million different kind of animals.

All life is confined to a thin layer of the earth called BIOSPHERE. The Biosphere of the earth can be divided into a number of BIOMES or natural habitats with specific climatic and geographical characteristics that help sustain a variety of plants and animals adapted to survive in a particular region.A biome is made up of biological communities that interact with each other in a particular life zone. A tropical rainforest, for example, is a biome which is the home for a wide variety of plants and animals suitably adapted to live in the habitat that constitutes the forest. The higher canopy of tree branches sustain arboreal animals, such as monkeys, flying squirrels and birds; the dense forest floor sustains tigers, deer, snakes, insects, millipedes, etc.The rainforest is characterised by warm and moist climate with plenty of rainfall. Similarly oceans, lakes, grasslands, wetlands,coniferous forests, deciduous forests, deserts and coastal regions constitute different biomes or self contained environments with typical plants and animals suitable to survive in these habitats.Thus nature provides an extremely complex and intricate network of living things delicately balanced and adapted to inhabit the diverse climatic and geographical regions on our planet. This is our natural heritage; a heritage in which we ourselves are one of the many species of animals, depending upon the entire system for our sustenance and survival.

What is biodiversity ?

The term Biodiversity encompasses the variety of all life on the earth. It is identified as the variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes which they are part, including diversity within and between species and ecosystems. Biodiversity manifests at three levels:
a) Species diversity which refers to the numbers and kinds of living organisms.
b) Genetic diversity which refers to genetic variation within a population of species.
c) Ecosystem diversity which is the variety of habitats, biological communities and ecological processes that occur in the biosphere.Biological diversity affects us all. It has direct consumptive value in food, agriculture, medicine, industry. It also has aesthetic and recreational value. Biodiversity maintains ecological balance and continues evolutionary process. The indirect ecosystem services provided through biodiversity are photosynthesis, pollination, chemical cycling, nutrient cycling, soil maintenance, climate regulation, air, water system management, waste treatment and pest control.Biodiversity is not evenly distributed among the world’s more than 170 countries. A very small number of countries lying wholly or partly within the tropics, contain a high percentage of the world’s species. These countries are known as Megabiodiversity countries. Twelve countries have been identified as megabiodiversity countries: India, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Madagascar, Zaire, Australia, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. Together these countries contain as much as 60 to 70 per cent of the world’s species. India is one of the 12 megabiodiversity centres in the world.India is divided into 10 biogeographic regions:Trans-Himalayan, Himalayan, Indian desert, Semi-arid zone, Western Ghats, Deccan Peninsula, Gangetic Plains, North-East India, Islands and Coasts.


An ecosystem is a place where nature has created a unique mixture of air, water, soil and a variety of living organisms to interact and support each other. It is a living community of plants and animals of any area together with the non-living components of the environment such as soil air and water. The living and non-living interact with each other in such a manner that it results in the flow of energy between them. In a particular ecosystem the biotic community consists of the birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and other invertebrates, bacteria, plants and other living organisms.An ecosystem includes not only the species inhabiting an area but also features of the physical environment. Energy cannot be produced without the consumption of matter; the pyramid of life therefore has a wide base of vegetation, the smaller herbivores that feed on plants, and a much smaller number of carnivores. Eco-system ecologists are interested in the exchange of energy, gases, water and minerals amongst the biotic (living) and the abiotic (non-living) components of a particular system; therefore they tend to study confined areas that are easier to control or monitor. Small and relatively self-contained ecosystems are called microsystems because they represent miniature systems in which most of the ecological processes characteristic of larger ecosystems operate but on a smaller scale. A small pond is an example of a little ecosystem. On the other hand, the largest and the only really complete ecosystem is the biosphere. An ecosystem can exist in any place where there are varied forms of life. Even the park near your home or a village pond can be an ecosystem as there are different forms of life here and they coexist.
One of the most productive ecosystems is at the point where sea water meets freshwater.Conservationists have now realised that in order to save the natural world, ecosystems as a whole have to be saved. Unless the entire ecosystem is preserved, the individual species will not be able to survive for long.Human activities clearly demonstrate the interdependence of all ecosystems – acid rain that falls on forests is carried to pristine lakes far from the source of pollution.

Deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels change the composition of the atmosphere and perhaps contributes to the alteration of the earth’s climate. The most important lesson to be learned about life on earth is that most things on the earth are interdependent and interconnected – actions taken have a much larger impact than one can think of.

Genetic Biodiversity

All forms of life on earth, whether microbes, plants, or human beings, contain genes. Genetic diversity is the sum of genetic information contained in the genes of individual plants, animals and micro-organisms. Each species is the storehouse of an immense amount of genetic information in the form of traits, characteristics, etc. The number of genes ranges from about 1000 in bacteria to more than 400,000 in many flowering plants, each species consists of many organisms and virtually no two members of the same species are genetically identical.An important conservation consequence of this is that even if an endangered species is saved from extinction it has probably lost some of its internal diversity. Consequently when populations expand again, they become more genetically uniform than their ancestors. There are mathematical formulas to express a genetically effective population size that explain the genetic effects on populations that have gone through a bottleneck before expanding again such as the African Cheetah or the North American Bison.Subsequent inbreeding in small populations may result in A) reduced fertility and B) increased susceptibility to disease. Genetic differentiation within species occurs as a result of sexual reproduction, in which genetic differences between individuals are combined in their offspring to produce new combinations of genes or from mutations causing changes in the DNA.Genetic diversity is usually mentioned with reference to agriculture and maintaining food security. This is because genetic erosion of several crops has already occurred leading to the world’s dependence for food on just a few species. Currently, a mere 100 odd species account for 90% of the supply of food crops and three crops – rice, maize and wheat – account for 69% of the calories and 56% of the proteins that people derive from plants.


Species is a group of class of animals and plants having certain common and permanent characteristics that clearly distinguish it from other groups or species (Concise Oxford Dictionary). They are populations in which gene flow occur under natural conditions. By definition, members of one species do not breed with those of other species. Unfortunately, this definition does not work in species where hybridization, self fertilization, or parthenogenesis (reproduction of offspring without fertilization by sexual union) occurs. New species may be established in several ways. The most common method is a geographical speciation (formation of new biological species), the process by which the populations that are isolated diverge through evolution by being subjected to different environmental conditions. Biodiversity is most commonly used and measured by species diversity. There are two major reasons for this: Species are still the most identifiable collective unit of biological organization and the loss of species seems the most irreversible and final of all forms of diversity. Species diversity can be expressed in terms of richness, that is the number of species in an area – for example you can count the number of plant species in your garden which will give you the species richness in your garden. Thus, if you have one neem tree and one mango tree, the tree species in your garden will be two. Ecologists have come up with various diversity indices, which focus not only on the number of species present but also on the number of individuals of a particular species.Diversity indices are of more value to ecologists, since they give an idea of the composition of the communities existing in an area, and help identify species that dominate the community in terms of their abundance, biomass or cover. Species diversity is not uniform throughout the world, some areas are very species rich while others are species poor. Again while one area may have hundreds of plant species another may have an incredible insect diversity. A striking pattern is the increase in diversity from poles to the equator, thus while the tropical areas team with life, temperate areas which are closer to the poles have fewer kind of plants and animals, while the polar regions are stark and barren. Tropical forests are amazingly diverse, a single hectare may contain 40 to 100 different kinds of trees. In contrast in a coniferous or a deciduous forest only about 10 to 30 species can be found.Latitudinal variations are not the only emerging pattern. Diversity is also closely linked to altitude or elevation. The plains of India have a varied species of plants but as you go up, the decrease in the moisture contents in the atmosphere reduces the number of species. The desert area has the least number of species. There are certain species that are endemic to a region that is, they are found in only a particular area and are very special to that area. They have evolved to adapt to that area only and if their habitat is destroyed (e.g. by deforestation) they can easily become extinct. Some plants and shrubs are endemic to only a particular type of forest, such as some found in the evergreen forest will not be found in any other type of forest area. Take the Western Ghats as an example – animals endemic to this area include the Rusty Spotted cat, Nilgiri marten, the Lion-tailed macaque, and the Nilgiri langur.


The forest is a complex ecosystem consisting mainly of trees that have formed a buffer for the earth to protect life-forms. The trees which make up the main area of the forest create a specialenvironment which, in turn, affects the kinds of animals and plants that can exist in the forest.The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) has defined forest as land with crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of more than 10% and area of more than 0.5 hectare. The trees should be able to reach a minimum height of 5 m at maturity in situ. In the tropical and subtropical region, forests are further subdivided into plantations and natural forests. Natural forests are forests composed of indigenous trees, not deliberately planted. Plantations are forest stands established by planting or/and seeding in the process of afforestation or reforestation. There are about 16 major types of forests in India from the tropical type to the dry type.Forests can develop wherever there is an average temperature greater then about 10 Centigrade in the warmest month and an annual rainfall in excess of about 200 mm annually. In any area having conditions above this range there exists an infinite variety of tree species grouped into a number of stable forest types that are determined by the specific conditions of the environment here. Forests can be broadly classified into many types some of which are the Taiga type (consisting of pines, spruce, etc.). The mixed temperate forests with both coniferous and deciduous trees, the temperate forests, the sub tropical forests, the tropical forests, and the equatorial rainforests.In India it is believed that organized exploitation of forest wealth began with an increase in hunting. Ashoka the Great is said to have set up the first sanctuary to protect the forest and all life in it. The Mughal rulers were avid hunters and spent a great deal of time in the forests.
It was during the British rule that the first practical move towards conservation in modern times took place. They established ‘reserved forest’ blocks with hunting by permit only. Though there were other motives behind their move, it at least served the purpose of classification of and control over the forests.
Soon after independence, rapid development and progress saw large forest tracts fragmented by roads, canals, and townships. There was an increase in the exploitation of forest wealth. It was only in 1970s that the importance of conservation of forests was realised and the preservation of India’s remaining forests and wildlife was given a front seat.

The Wetlands

Wetlands are areas lying along the banks of rivers and lakes and the coastal regions. They are life supporting systems providing fish, forest products, water, flood control, erosion buffering, a plant gene pool, wildlife, recreation and tourism areas. Though they are endowed with a rich biodiversity, yet of late they are being greatly exploited. Many Wetland species have become threatened and endangered because of their dependence on a particular type of wetland eco-system, which has become seriously degraded or destroyed. Such is the case with swampy grasslands and the flood plain wetlands of the Ganges and Brahmaputra river valleys. Large areas have been converted to agricultural land or there has been widespread over-grazing. Removal of sand, gravel and other material from the beds of rivers and lakes has not only caused destruction of wetlands but has led to sedimentation, which has affected other areas. The introduction of exotic plants has had an adverse effect on these areas. The water hyacinth, a native of South America, is now a major pest in many areas forming a vast floating shield over the surface of the water and clogging up rivers and canals. A number of factors have been responsible for the depletion of wetland areas, mainly the mangrove forests, along the coasts of India. Intensive aquacultural development, deforestation, pollution from tankers, domestic waste, agricultural runoff and industrial effluents are some of the factors. Most of the surviving mangroves are now confined to West Bengal and the islands in the Bay of Bengal.In 1981, Chilka Lake, India’s largest brackish water lagoon, was designated a Ramsar Wetland of International importance. But its fragile ecosystem has of late come under threat due to both anthropogenic and natural factors. It provides refuge to thousands of migratory birds and the balance in ecosystem has to be maintained to ensure safe habitat for the birds.

Exotic Species

As opposed to native species, which are indigenous and found naturally in an environment, animals and plant species introduced from other countries and which are not otherwise found locally are termed exotic. These introduced or exotic species can adversely affect the ecosystem.In India large variety of exotic animal and plant species, have been introduced from other parts of the world through the ages. Some exotic plants have turned into weeds, multiplying fast and causing harm to the ecosystem, e.g. Water hyacinth and lantana. Exotics are invariably introduced without their natural enemies that control and balance their spread in their native land, and hence grow and flourish without any hindrance and cause harm to the environment. Therefore, when planting saplings, remember to choose only those that form a part of the natural ecosystem of an area. In a stable ecosystem, all species – animals, plants and microbes – are in healthy coexistence. Any disturbance in one gives rise to imbalance in others and this is what happens when an exotic species is introduced.Introduced species can often negatively affect native species. While they are selected specifically for their adaptability and in the long run often out number native species and compete with them for the resources. This results in the expansion of the introduced species and the decline of native species. Plants from all over the world have been brought to India and grown here. Some have proved beneficial while others have not. Vegetables such as chillies and onion have been brought from South America and Persia (modern day Iran) respectively. Coffee, Cashew, eucalyptus and many more species have come from abroad. Some quick growing plant species were brought from Australia for afforestation programmes such as the acacia and eucalyptus. The demand for wood in different industries led to a growth of forest area under these species. These trees shed the leaves on the ground and do not allow other plants to grow nor do they decompose easily. During the rains there is heavy erosion and poor percolation in these areas. Thus the introduction of these species has caused more harm than good to the forests and the soil in general. Some weeds have not been intentionally introduced but have come accidentally as for instance the Mexican weed came along with American wheat that came as PL 480 aid from the USA in the 1960s when quarantine rules were not so strict. In fact all plants and seeds that come from another country should be quarantined to ensure that no other foreign material has come with it.

Source : Edugreen – Teri, New Delhi




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WATER … the giver of life

An Article by Mohan Pai

Water … the giver of life.


Water has a central place in the practices and beliefs of most religions for two main reasons. Firstly, water cleanses. Water washes away impurities and pollutants, it can make an object look as good as new and wipe away any signs of previous defilement. Water not only purifies objects for ritual use, but can make a person clean, externally or spiritually, ready to come into the presence of his/her focus of worship. Secondly, water is a primary building block of life. Without water there is no life, yet water has the power to destroy as well as to create. We are at the mercy of water just as we are at the mercy of our gods. The significance of water manifests itself differently in different religions and beliefs but it is these two qualities of water that underlie its place in our cultures and faiths.
In India, water has been an object of worship from time immemorial. Primordial water is aadi jalam, kaarana jalam, karana vaari. The sea of primeval water is kaaranavaaridhi. Water represents the non-manifested substratum from which all manifestations arise. Primarily, water is the building block of life. The five elements of nature (panchamahabhuta) include earth, water, fire, air and ether (sky). Adi Shesha, the divine snake who forms the couch of Narayana, represents cosmic waters.

Water-carrier (1882)
Akshitha is imperishable. Water is Akshitham. In the matter of purity it is like eyes. Hence it is also known as Akshitharam. Water is a purifier, life-giver and destroyer of evil. It is life- preserving power par excellence.Although Hinduism encompasses so many different beliefs, most Hindus do share the importance of striving to attain purity and avoiding pollution. This relates to both physical cleanliness and spiritual well being. Water cleanses, washes away impurities and pollutants. The belief that water has spiritually cleansing powers has given it a central place in the practices and beliefs of many a religious ritual. Physically and mentally clean person is enabled to focus on worship. Water as an element of belief system and culture makes Hinduism ‘a religion of holy water’. The words panchapatre, dhaarakam, kudam, kamandalu, kindi and kundi(ka), kalasa are the Indian water vessels for holy use.
Most life on Earth has water as a major component; our cells, and those of plants and animals are made up of approximately 70 percent water. Water is the basic building block for all life on Earth, water is the most plentiful natural resource on the planet; in fact, over two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water. However, 97 percent is held in the oceans, while only 3 percent is freshwater. Of the freshwater, only 1 percent is easily accessible as ground or surface water, the remains are stored in glaciers and icecaps. Moreover, freshwater is not evenly distributed across land surfaces, and there are a number of heavily populated countries located in arid lands where fresh water is scarce.
The Water Cycle
Water also regulates the temperature of the planet and cycles essential nutrients through the land, air, and all living things. The flow of water through the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere is called the hydrologic, or water, cycle. Thus, water is both the most abundant natural resource on our planet and a fundamental element of life whose preciousness requires diligent management. Vast quantities of water also cycle through the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land, and biosphere over both short and long time scales. This grand cycling of water is called the hydrologic cycle; it shapes our weather and climate, supports plant growth, and make life itself possible. The water cycle is dominated by oceans, where 96 percent of the water on Earth is found and where the majority global evaporation occurs.
Water is stored for periods of time in various types of reservoirs, primarily the oceans and polar ice and glaciers. There is roughly 50 times as much water stored in the oceans than in polar ice and glaciers, which is the next largest water reservoir. The amount of time that water stays in a reservoir varies: while glaciers retain their water for an average of 40 years, deep groundwater can be held for up to 10,000 years. At the other end of the spectrum, the retention time for rivers, soil moisture, and seasonal snow cover is typically less than 6 months.
When rain and other precipitation falls on land, much of it seeps into the ground. This process, the movement of water into and through the soil and rocks, is called infiltration. How water behaves once it is in the ground is determined by the type of soil or rock through which it moves. It is primarily during this stage of the water cycle that water is purified, although the extent to which it is “cleaned” also depends on the water composition itself as well as the state of the surrounding environment. As water passes through layers of sediment and rock, many pollutants are filtered out. In general, the deeper groundwater is found, the cleaner it will be.
Water not absorbed into the soil flows across the land and into rivers, lakes, streams, and eventually to the oceans. Runoff waters can originate from precipitation or stem from melting snow or ice, although it will vary depending upon an assortment of factors, including the topography, geology, and land cover of a particular area. An expanse of land where the surface runoff and groundwater drains into a common point – usually a stream, lake, or river – is called a watershed, which can range in size from a few acres to many square miles. And, unlike water filtered by the soil, runoff water can serve as a collector of nutrients, sediment, or other pollutants on the land that can affect the quality of water throughout a watershed.
Most water, however, returns to the air in the form of water vapor; the bulk of this evaporation occuring by means of the oceans. Roughly half of land-based evaporation occurs on the surface area of plants, called transpiration. These together are sometimes referred to as evapotranspiration. The process in which water vapor is converted back into liquid form is called condensation. Within the water cycle, it takes place primarily in the atmosphere. As water vapor moves upward in the atmosphere it cools. Droplets develop and collect as a result of gravitational pull to form clouds. Water then returns to Earth through precipitation which, depending on the temperature of the surrounding air, will take either frozen or liquid form; although, it is primarily through precipitation that water moves from the atmosphere to the Earth.
Water Use

Fresh water is one of our most valuable natural resources for which agricultural, industrial, municipal, and environmental uses all compete. Throughout history, cities and villages established themselves, and grew, near sources of water. Today, an adequate supply of fresh water is still needed, with quality being just as important as quantity. However, with continued increases in population, the competition between the various uses will only become more intense. How the allocation, use, and management of water is addressed will have dramatic impacts on the environment, the economy, and our quality of life.
Fresh Water Crisis
By mid century as much as three quarters of the earth’s population could face scarcity of fresh water. Apart from population increase, Global Climate change is exacerbating aridity and reducing supply in many regions.Lack of access to water can lead to starvation, disease, political instability and even armed conflict and failure to take action can have broad and grave consequences. In the absence of concerted action to save water, the combination of population growth and climate change will create scarcity far and wide.
Water Situation in India
India, with a sixth of the world’s population, faces a rapidly growing water crisis, both in the urban and rural areas. These include wasteful practices in the use of water, particularly for irrigation, water-logging and salinity, and inadequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation. In cities such as Chennai and Delhi, several localities rely on private water tankers for their daily water needs. Groundwater is the dominant resource that has been developed in rural India to meet the drinking water needs. But often, the shallower wells are found to be affected by fluoride, arsenic, iron, salt and/or microbial contamination. In many States, especially Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, this is a significant concern. Over-use of pesticides and chemicals in agriculture is the primary cause for groundwater pollution in the rural areas. A survey conducted in Uttar Pradesh in 2004 revealed that people in one region are compelled to drink polluted water with a high fluoride content, leading to large-scale dental fluorosis and arthritis.
Average water consumption around the world is about 53 liters per head per day. In India, we expect to soon have only about 20 liters available per head per day. We have had droughts for a long time, and now with global climate change, things will become even more difficult. The glaciers are receding from the Himalayan Mountains. They are about one fifth the size they were about 60 years ago.
Himalayan glaciers

The waters from the Himalayan glaciers provide water for about 70 percent of all the people in Asia. In India, we have three major rivers – the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra – and it is likely that they will drain to small rivers. It will be a very big disaster for India, more than any other country. In most of northern India, there will be no water. Right now there are floods. The flood area has increased from 25 million hectares to 60 millions hectares in the last 30 years. That is an indication that the water is draining away, and these will become dry areas. This will happen in less than 30 years. It is a very serious matter. Already today, irrigation, which has benefitted agriculture in India a lot, has become very difficult. Things have changed since the Green Revolution. The rate of agricultural production has come down. Groundwater, which is already scarce, has gone down to 800 feet (240 meters) or even 1,000 feet (300m) in some regions around Bangalore.
Water Facts
01 Only about 3% of surface water is fresh water.
02 Water covers 71% of the Earth’s surface, but one fifth of the world’s population lacks access to clean drinking water.
03 The Earth’s oceans are the most important carbon sink on the planet along with rainforests.
04 Floods are the most frequent disaster worldwide.
05 Waterborne diseases affect about four billion people every year.
06 In 2007, Greenland’s ice sheet lost nearly 19 billion tons more ice than in 2006.
07 It is expected that the demand for water will double during the next 30 years.
08 A kilo of industrially produced meat needs about 10,000 liters of water to produce.
09 People in rich countries use ten times more water than people in poor countries.
10 Agriculture takes up 70% of the water we use.


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Vanishing Species – Mouse Deer


 An article by Mohan Pai 

The Indian Mouse Deer
Or Indian Chevrotain
(Tragulus meminna)

India’s smallest deer, the Mouse deer is a very timid and nocturnal animal difficult to spot in the wild.

This species was widespread and successful from the Oligocene (34 million years ago) to the Miocene (about 5 million years ago), but has remained almost unchanged over that time and remains as an example of primitive ruminant form. Chevrotains have a four-chambered stomach to ferment tough plant foods, but the third chamber is poorly developed. Like other ruminants, they lack upper incisors, and give birth to only a single young, rather than having pig-like litters. The dental formula of chevrotains is the same as that of some smaller deer.
“Chevrotain” is a French word “chevre,” which means “goat,” and it is then made diminutive to denote a “kid.” It is not closely related to a goat. “Deer” comes from the German word “Tier,” which simply means “animal.” The brown coat is speckled with white markings. The body is stocky, with rounded hindquarters. The legs are slender and the feet are four-toed, but the outer toes are small. It has 34 teeth. The upper canines in the male are longer and more pointed than those of the female. This animal grows to about twenty inches long, thirteen inches at the shoulder, and they weigh about six pounds. This nocturnal animal is very timid and disappears in dense vegetation at the least hint of danger. It is thus very difficult to observe in the wild. It is solitary, except for the mating period. Its diet is quite varied, and includes both plants and small animals.

The chevrotains have primitive features, closer to non-ruminants such as pigs. They do not have horns or antlers, but both sexes possess enlarged upper canines. The male’s are prominent and sharp, projecting either side of the lower jaw. Chevrotains have short, thin legs which leave them lacking in agility but also helps to maintain a smaller profile which aids in running through the dense foliage of their environment. Other pig-like features include the presence of four toes on each foot, the absence of facial scent glands, premolars with sharp crowns, and the form of their sexual behaviour and copulation.Chevrotains are solitary animals, and usually interact only to mate. The young are weaned at three months of age, and reach sexual maturity at between five and ten months, depending on species. Parental care is relatively limited. Although they lack the types of scent glands found in most other ruminants, they do possess a chin gland for marking each other as mates or antagonists, and, in the case of the water chevrotain, anal and preputial glands for marking territory. Their territories are relatively small, on the order of 13-24 hectares, but neighbors generally ignore each other, rather than competing aggressively.

Pic: Courtesy Wikipedia

Distribution and habitat
Within India, the Indian chevrotain is commonly encountered in a number of forest areas along the Western Ghats, in the Eastern Ghats up to Orissa, and in the forests of central India. The Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve at the extreme south of the Western Ghats appears to be one of the best localities for the species and may represent a major population stronghold. The species may also be frequently met with in most other protected areas along the Western Ghats such as the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary, Silent Valley, Mudumalai-Bandipur-Nagarahole, Bhadra, and Kudremukh. Krishnan (1972) notes that the species is seen almost commonly around Karwar and in some forests of south India having also observed the species in the Simlipal hills of Orissa in the east. Along the Eastern Ghats populations of mouse deer occur in the forest tracts along the Nallamal hills and Srisailam Nagarjuna Sagar and also in in Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh.The Indian chevrotain is found in tropical deciduous and moist evergreen and semi-evergreen forests of the Peninsular Indian hills, plains, and plateaux, extending into montane forests up to around 1850 m elevation. They are reported to favour rocky habitats, grass-covered rocky hill-sides and forest seldom far from water, and often occur along forest streams and rivers.


Acknowledgements: Wikipedia, Book of Indian Animals by S. H. Prater, America Zoo.



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Global Warming & India

An article by Mohan Pai

(This article was written by me for a publisher in Goa more then two years ago. It’s still very relevant and I thought I will reproduce it here for my blog readers.)
The Earth is heating up – and fast.
Cause for alarm ?


Global Warming issue is now really hotting up. The ‘Catastrophe’ that the world and humanity now faced with is of such mammoth proportions and unprecedented that humanity’s very survival is in question. Sceptics thought that it was a case of “crying wolf”. But the wolf now seems to be at our very doorstep.
11 of the last 12 years have been warmest on record.Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued the summary of its fourth report in Paris on May 2 of this year. It is quite categorical about the fact that global warming is mainly due to anthropological (human-made) causes. Mainly the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere due to human influence. For decades, this has been a topic of conjecture but no more. All the signs are now clearly there – the melting ice of the glaciers, increase in the number of heat waves, increased intensity of tropical storms, changing weather patterns and rising sea levels.
Worldwide, very little is being done to control or reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. U.S.A. which is the largest emitter (25%) of greenhouse gases is not even a signatory to Kyoto protocol that is formed to control the greenhouse gases emissions. Deforestation, a major contributor to greenhouse gases emission, continues unabated in Brazil and Indonesia releasing billions of tons of Co2 into the earth’s atmosphere.
For India, the reality lies in some stark occurrences like farmer suicides or disappearance of two islands in the Sunderbans due to rising water displacing 6,000 people. Also the fact that the Himalayan glaciers are melting fast and some very clear signs of rise in sea levels.
For Goa, implications of global warming will be truly horrendous. Some predictions give the year 2020 when India’s shorelines will be inundated with one-metre rise in sea level. The entire West Coast will be devastated and Goa will go. One estimate puts the loss of property and assets in Goa at Rs. 5,000 billion. The three metros – Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkota are also expected to be submerged along with most of the coastal settlements of India.
It could happen by 2030 0r 2070 but, the probability is very high. The issue is of a global-scale and requires global-scale action. About time everybody woke up.
Are we going to shut the barn door after the horse has bolted ?
Mohan Pai
December 10. 2006

 The earth’s average temperature is on the rise. For decades this has been a subject of conjecture, but no more. The climate change is with us. According to Climatologists, 2005 was the warmest year in a century, with 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004 next in line. The visible effects can now be felt in the form of melting glaciers in Greenland, Alaska, the Alps, the Himalayas and the polar regions of the Arctic and the Antarctic. Permafrost (permanently frozen soil) in Canada, Alaska and Siberia is melting at an alarming rate. Sea levels are rising. Hurricanes are becoming more numerous and more intense. According to some, humanity is sitting on a volatile time bomb – one that could send the entire planet into a tailspin of epic destruction, with detonation not far in the future. But is this a realistic scenario ?

This diagram predicts the global temperatures for the period 2070-2100 vs 1960-1990 average temperatures.

One of the most hotly debated topics on the earth today is the subject of climate change. The term ‘global warming’ which in common usage refers to recent warming and implies a human influence. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the average surface temperature of the earth went up by one degree Fahrenheit during the past hundred years, with accelerated warming occurring within the past 20 years and the decade of 1995-2005 being the warmest during the last hundred years
It is such an intricate and complex subject that even today’s super computers have been inadequate for correct predictions. Since 1950 there have been indications of rise in global average temperatures and in the seventies and the eighties of the last century the phenomena started becoming more prominent. Considering the seriousness of the threat, the United Nations set up the Intergovernmental Panel on the Climate Change (IPCC) in the year 1988. With hundreds of scientists and specialists working on the project, the Panel has built a massive data base and so far issued four reports. The fourth report was issued in the month of February, 2007 in which the IPCC has sounded the bleakest warning on Climate Change that human activity is the main driver, “very likely” causing most of the rise in global temperatures since 1950. The following graph indicates the probability of the phenomenon and the warning signs that are becoming apparent.


*Eleven of the last 12 years are among the warmest on record
*Oceans have warmed down to 3,000 metres
*Mountain glaciers and snow cover have declined
*Satellites have seen an acceleration in sea level rise
*More intense and longer droughts have been observed
*Arctic ice cover is shrinking in depth and in extent


It is very likely that human activities are causing global warming.
Possible temperature rise by the end of the century ranges between 1.1C and 6.4C (2-11.5F)
Sea levels are likely to rise by 28-43cm
Arctic summer sea ice is likely to disappear in second half of century
It is very likely that parts of the world will see an increase in the number of heat waves
Climate change is likely to lead to increased intensity of tropical storms
75-250 million people across Africa could face water shortages by 2020
Crop yields could increase by 20% in East and Southeast Asia, but decrease by up to 30% in Central and South Asia Agriculture fed by rainfall could drop by 50% in some African countries by 2020
20-30% of all plant and animal species at increased risk of extinction if temperatures rise between 1.5-2.5C
Glaciers and snow cover expected to decline, reducing water availability in countries supplied by melt water
Big questions remain about the speed and extent of some impending changes, both because of uncertainty about future population and pollution trends and the complex relationships of the emission of the greenhouse gases, clouds, dusty kinds of pollution, the oceans and the earth’s veneer of life, which both emits and soaks up carbon dioxide and other such gases.
The world’s primary international agreement on combating global warming is the Kyoto Protocol, an amendment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), negotiated in 1997. The Protocol now covers more than 160 countries globally and over 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The United States, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter (25% of the total world emission); Australia; and Kazakhstan have refused to ratify the treaty. China and India, two other large emitters, have ratified the treaty but, as developing countries, are exempt from its provisions. This treaty expires in 2012, and international talks began in May 2007 on a future treaty to succeed the current one.


These graphs show actual data and 2001 Ipcc predictions for carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmoshere in parts per million (top graph): changes in temperature relative to 1990 temperatures (middle graph) and changes in sea-levels relative to 1990 levels (bottom graph).
The earth’s climate and weather is driven by energy from the sun. The greenhouse effect is the rise in temperatures that the earth experiences because certain gases in the atmosphere (water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and ozone, for example) trap energy from the sun. The energy heats the earth, which in turn radiates that heat back into space. But, much of this heat is retained by the greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. Without these gases, heat would escape back into space and the earth’s average temperature would be about 60 degrees Fahrenheit colder and obviously, this would not be an environment conducive for life and the earth would be inhabitable.

But the problem arises when the quantum of greenhouse gases increases to a higher level and the greenhouse effect becomes stronger increasing the heat in the atmosphere and making the earth warmer than usual. Even a little extra warming may give rise to serious problems for life on earth – humans, plants and animals.


The greenhouse effect was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824 and was first investigated by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. On earth, the major greenhouse gases are water vapour, which causes about 36-70% of the greenhouse effect (not including the clouds), carbon dioxide (Co2), which causes 9-26%, methane (Ch4) which causes 4-9% and ozone, which causes 3-7%. The atmospheric concentrations of Co2 and Ch4 have increased by 31% and 149% respectively above pre-industrial level since 1750. These levels are considerably higher than at any time during the last 6,50,000 years, the period for which reliable data has been extracted from ice cores.
About three-quarters of the anthropogenic (man-made) emissions of Co2 to the atmosphere during the past twenty years are due to fossil fuel (petrol, diesel, coal, etc.) burning. The rest of the anthropogenic emissions are predominantly due to land-use change, especially deforestation.


If current trends continue, we will raise atmospheric Co2 concentrations to double pre-industrial levels during this century. That will probably be enough to raise global temperatures by around 2 to 5 degrees Centigrade. Some warming is certain, but the degree will be determined by feedbacks involving melting ice, the oceans, water vapour, clouds and changes in vegetation.
The main causes for the increased greenhouse effect are the burning of the Fossil Fuels and Deforestation

 Fossil Fuels and the Global Carbon Cycle

Huge amounts of carbon have been captured by plants and buried in the ground in the form of coal, oil, natural gas called fossil fuels. These fuels have accumulated over the course of millions of years. With the advent of Industrial Revolution, mankind began extracting and burning earth’s vast reserves of these fuels. This released millions of tons of carbon, in the form of Co2 in the atmosphere, thus increasing the levels of greenhouse gases that are now affecting the earth’s temperature. Since then, atmospheric concentrations of Co2 have increased nearly 30%, methane concentrations have more than doubled, and nitrous oxide have risen about 15%. These increases have enhanced the heat trapping capability of the earth’s atmosphere, and will continue to do so for years to come.
As per the IPCC report : “Annual fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions increased from an average of 6.4 GtC (billion tonnes of carbon) in the 1990s to 7.2 GtC in 2000-2005.”


Deforestation and the Global Carbon Cycle

 Carbon dioxide ( CO2) is the major gas involved in the greenhouse effect, which causes global warming. All the things that produce CO2 (like car burning gas) and the things that consume Co2 (growing plants) are involved in the “global carbon cycle”.
Tropical forests hold an immense amount of carbon, which joins with oxygen to form CO2. The plants and soil of tropical forests hold 460-575 billion metric tons of carbon worldwide. Each acre of tropical forest stores about 180 metric tons of carbon.
Deforestation increases the amount of CO2 and other trace gases in the atmosphere. When a forest is cut and replaced by cropland and pastures, the carbon that was stored in the tree trunks (wood is about 50% carbon) joins with oxygen and is released into the atmosphere as CO2.
The loss of forests has a great effect on the global carbon cycle. From 1850 to 1990, deforestation worldwide (including that in the United States) released 122 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere, with the current rate being 1.6 billion metric tons per year. In comparison all the fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) burned during a year release about 6 billion tons per year.
Releasing CO2 into the atmosphere increases the greenhouse effect, and may raise global temperature. The role of fossil fuels burned by cars and industry is well known, but tropical deforestation releases about 25% of the amount released by fossil fuel burning. Tropical deforestation, therefore, contributes a significant part of the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.




The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that temperatures are most likely to rise by 1.8 C – 4C by 2001. But the possible range is much greater; 1.1C – 6.4C. The maps above show how a range of three different scenarios will affect different parts of the world.
The emissions scenarios,B1, A1B, A2 used to create the maps above, are based on a range of detailed economic and technological data. These versions of the future consider different population increases, fossil and alternative fuel use, and consequent Co2 increases.
Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas, its rise since the industrial revolution is clear. Burning coal, using oil and deforestation all place Co2 into atmosphere.
The other two main greenhouse gases are methane and nitrous oxide. Both gases have a much smaller presence in the atmosphere than Co2 but are much stronger greenhouse gases; methane has over 20 times the effect of Co2, whileNitrous oxide is nearly 300 times stronger.
What is the evidence of warming?
Temperature records go back to the late 19th Century and show that the global average temperature increased by about 0.6C in the 20th Century. Sea levels have risen 10-20cm – thought to be caused mainly by the expansion of warming oceans. Most glaciers in temperate regions of the world and along the Antarctic Peninsula are in retreat; and records show Arctic sea-ice has thinned by 40% in recent decades in summer and autumn. There are anomalies however – parts of the Antarctic appear to be getting colder, and there are discrepancies between trends in surface temperatures and those in the troposphere (the lower portion of the atmosphere).

How much will temperatures rise?
If nothing is done to reduce emissions, current climate models predict a global temperature increase of 1.1-6.4C by 2100. Even if we cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically now, scientists say the effects would continue because parts of the climate system, particularly large bodies of water and ice, can take hundreds of years to respond to changes in temperature. It also takes greenhouse gases in the atmosphere decades to break down. It is possible that we have already irrevocably committed the Greenland ice sheet to melting, which would cause an estimated 7m rise in sea level. There are also indications that the west Antarctic ice sheet may have begun to melt, though scientists caution further research is necessary.
How Will the Weather Change ?
Globally, we can expect more extreme weather events, with heat waves becoming hotter and more frequent. Scientists predict more rainfall overall, but say the risk of drought in inland areas during hot summers will increase. More flooding is expected from storms and rising sea levels. There are, however, likely to be very strong regional variations in these patterns, and these are difficult to predict.
What will the effects be?
The potential impact is huge, with predicted freshwater shortages, sweeping changes in food production conditions, and increases in deaths from floods, storms, heat waves and droughts. Poorer countries, which are least equipped to deal with rapid change, will suffer most.
Plant and animal extinctions are predicted as habitats change faster than species can adapt, and the World Health Organization has warned that the health of millions could be threatened by increases in malaria, water-borne disease and malnutrition. The precise relationship between concentrations of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) and temperature rise is not known, which is one reason why there is such uncertainty in projections of temperature increase. Global warming will cause some changes which will speed up further warming, such as the release of large quantities of the greenhouse gas methane as permafrost melts. Other factors may mitigate warming; it is possible that plants may take more CO2 from the atmosphere as their growth speeds up in warmer conditions, though this remains in doubt. Scientists are not sure how the complex balance between these positive and negative feedback effects will play out.

What don’t we know?
We don’t know exactly what proportion of the observed warming is caused by human activities or what the knock-on effects of the warming will be.

What about the sceptics?

Global warming “sceptics” fall into three broad camps: those who maintain temperatures are not rising those who accept the climate is changing but suspect it is largely down to natural variation those who accept the theory of human-induced warming but say it is not worth tackling as other global problems are more pressing.Nevertheless, there is a growing scientific consensus that, even on top of the natural variability of the climate, something out of the ordinary is happening and humans are to blame.

The Arctic, one of the most forbidding environments in the world, is home to the polar bear. During the summer, these animals roam this region on large chunks of floating ice, drifting for hundreds of miles. This is how they find mates and hunt for seals, fattening themselves to prepare for the severe winter. If these palettes of ice did not exist, the polar bear would not survive.
Within the past three decades, more than one million square miles of sea ice—an area the size of Norway, Denmark and Sweden combined – has vanished. Presently, ice at the southern Arctic region of the polar bear’s range is melting about three weeks sooner than has previously been the case. This affords the bears less time to hunt, eat and store fat. Due to this early melting, the Hudson Bay polar bear population has declined by 14% during the past ten years.Some climate models predict that 50 to 60% of this vital summer sea ice will disappear by the end of this century; others predict that by just 2070, the Arctic will be completely ice-free in the summer. If this does indeed occur, the world’s largest bear could become extinct.

Meanwhile, glaciers in Greenland are receding at alarming rates. Within the last five years, those along the eastern and western coasts have receded about 300 miles each. Although a total meltdown is highly unlikely, with more than one-fifth of the population living less than two feet above sea level, not much melting is required to cause significant damage.Permafrost in the Arctic region is diminishing as well. According to a report in the Geophysical Research Letters, it could shrink by 60 to 90% by 2100. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate scientist states that this will increase freshwater runoff into the Arctic Ocean by 28%, lead to the release of large quantities of greenhouse gases from the soil, and upset ecosystems within a wide area.



 Huge, pristine, dramatic, unforgiving; the Antarctic is where the biggest of all global changes could begin. There is so much ice here that if it all melted, sea levels globally would rise hugely – perhaps as much as 80m. Say goodbye to London, New York, Sydney, Bangkok, Rio… in fact, the majority of the world’s major cities. But will it happen? Scientists divide the Antarctic into three zones: the east and west Antarctic ice sheets; and the Peninsula, the tongue of land which points up towards the southern tip of South America.

 . “Everybody thinks that the Antarctic is shrinking due to climate change, but the reality is much more complex,” says David Vaughan, a principal investigator at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK. “Parts of it appear to be thickening as a result of snowfall increases. But the peninsula is thinning at an alarming rate due to warming. “The West Antarctic sheet is also thinning, and we’re not sure of the reason why.” Temperatures in the Peninsula appear to be increasing at around twice the global average – about 2C over the last 50 years. Those figures are based on measurements made by instruments at scientific stations. Earlier this year, David Vaughan’s group published research showing that the vast majority of glaciers along the Peninsula – 87% of the 244 studied – are in retreat. 

A little under 70% of the world’s Fresh water is locked up in ice

The ice dumped into the ocean as the glaciers retreat should not make much difference to global sea levels – perhaps a few cm. More worrying, potentially, are the vast ice sheets covering the rest of Antarctica. Making temperature measurements for the continent as a whole is difficult; it is a vast place – more than 2,000km across – there are few research stations, and temperatures vary naturally by 2-3C from year to year. But measurements indicate that in the west, melting is underway. “About one-third of the West Antarctic ice sheet is thinning,” says Dr Vaughan, “on average by about 10cm per year, but in the worst places by 3-4m per year.” The rock on which the West Antarctic ice rests is below sea level – and British Antarctic Survey researchers believe the thinning could be due to the ice sheet melting on its underside. “It may be that the ocean is warming and that’s causing the ice to melt, but there may be other reasons as well; for example, there’s lots of volcanism in that area and so that could change how much heat is delivered to the underside of the ice sheet.”




Glaciers snake over many of the world’s high regions – the Himalayas, the Andes, the Alps, Alaska. The recent signs are that these, like the Arctic, are feeling the impact of rising temperatures. Over the last five years, various teams have reported glaciers shrinking in Peru, Kazakhstan, Nepal and Alaska. “There is a global pattern of melting in most of the world’s mountain glaciers,” says Michael Hambrey, director of the Centre for Glaciology at Britain’s University of Aberystwyth. “There are exceptions – some glaciers are advancing – but overall the state of mountain glaciers is a dramatic shrinking since the 1970s. “Some have disappeared completely, and most could be gone by the end of this century.”

Hurricanes Increasing?
The year 2005 was a record-breaking one for Atlantic hurricanes, with the most named storms, the most hurricanes and the most Category-five hurricanes occurring—with New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast being nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In terms of barometric pressure, the Atlantic Basin also experienced its most intense hurricane ever that year, Hurricane Wilma. Some studies reveal that tropical storms around the world are intensifying, with computer models suggesting a shift toward extreme intensity. A big question on many minds is, “Does the warming of the earth have a direct effect on the strength of hurricanes?” Opinions are varied.Scientists caution that one must consider questions of climate change over decades, even centuries. A particularly rough hurricane season or two cannot be blamed on global warming.Preliminary evidence suggests that, once hurricanes form, they will be stronger if the oceans are warmer. However, much uncertainty exists about whether hurricanes and other storms will become more frequent.According to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, which assesses natural climate variability, “The strongest hurricanes in the present climate may be upstaged by even more intense hurricanes over the next century as the earth’s climate is warmed by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Although we cannot say at present whether more or fewer hurricanes will occur in the future with global warming, the hurricanes that do occur near the end of the 21st century are expected to be stronger and have significantly more intense rainfall than under present day climate conditions.” This is based upon an anticipated increase of energy from higher sea surface temperatures.


An increase in global temperature can cause changes in the amount os precipitation. Overall, land prcipitation has increased by 2% since 1900, however, precipitation changes have been spatially variable over the last century. While there is a general increase of about 0.5-1.0%/decade over land in northern mid-high latitudes, there is a decrease pf about 0.3%/decade in precipitation in sub-tropical latitudes during the 20th century. But, the tropics appear to be getting drier.


Rises in sea levels are going to be one of the most devastating consequences of Global Warming.Rises in sea levels are predicted by the new report, threatening low-lying areas of land around the world. As the oceans warm, their waters expand, while rising temperatures also increase the melting of the ice sheets that cover Greenland and Antarctica .Both these factors contribute to rises in sea levels. In 2001, the IPCC predicted that sea levels would rise by between 9 and 88 centimetres by 2100, relative to 1990 levels. The new report says rises could range from 18 cm to 59 cm. But predictions of sea level rise are one of the most contentious areas of the report – very recent research has suggested that rises of up to 140 cm are possible. The problem is that the understanding of how warming affects Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets remains limited, and they are predicted to be the most important contributors to change. Estimates of the straightforward melting of ice are incorporated in the IPCC report. But warming may also accelerate the movement of ice in glaciers into the ocean, perhaps by meltwater lubricating the undersides of ice streams.Susan Solomon, one of the report’s lead authors, said there was no published research that quantified this effect, and so it was not included. But she added: “If temperatures exceed 1.9°C to 4.6°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and were to be sustained for thousands of years, eventually we would expect the Greenland ice sheet to melt. That would raise sea level by 7 metres.”

Warming is an environmental catastrophe that is staring in the world’s face. India needs to take a serious view of this impending danger which will bring about disastrous consequences for India.
The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will be doubled by 2040 and more than treble by the end of the century. Most of this century is going to witness soaring temperature, erratic weather patterns with more intense monsoons, increased cyclonic activities, severe droughts and floods, melting glaciers and rise in sea levels.
The oceanic region adjoining the Indian subcontinent is likely to warm at its surface by about 1.5-2.0 Celsius by the middle of this century and by about 2.3-3.5 Celsius by the end of the century.

Red areas indicate the shoreline andareas likely to be innudated as a resultof sea level rise.

This indication is derived from modern simulation studies. In a discussion on this issue in the Indian parliament, Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Shri Namo Narain Meena said that the past observations on the mean sea level along the Indian coast show a long-term rising trend of about 1.0 mm/year. The recent data suggests a rising trend of 2.5 mm/year in the sea-level along Indian coastline.
The corresponding thermal expansion, related sea-level rise is expected to be between 15 cm and 38 cm by the middle of this century and between 46 cm and 59 cm by the end of the century.
According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Environment & Forests on the impacts of climate change on various sectors including coastal zones, in the event of one meter sea-level rise, 5764 Km2 of land in coastal areas of India is projected to lose, displacing approximately 7.1 million people along with 4200 Kms of roads by the end of the 21st century. Further the coastal areas are also vulnerable to projected increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like storm surges and cyclones. In the eastern coast, the vulnerable districts include Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara in Orissa and Nellore in Andhra Pradesh and Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu.
Himalayan glaciers ‘melting fast’
Melting glaciers in the Himalayas could lead to water shortages for hundreds of millions of people in India, Nepal and China according to the conservation group of WWF
In a report, the WWF says India, China and Nepal could experience floods followed by droughts in coming decades. The Himalayas contain the largest store of water outside the polar ice caps, and feed seven great Asian rivers. The group says immediate action against climate change could slow the rate of melting, which is increasing annually. “Yangtze and Yellow rivers are believed to be retreating at a rate of about 10-15m (33-49ft) each year.
Himalayan glaciers ‘melting fast’
“The rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers will first increase the volume of water in rivers, causing widespread flooding,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the WWF’s Global Climate Change Programme. “But in a few decades this situation will change and the water level in rivers will decline, meaning massive eco and environmental problems for people in western China, Nepal and northern India.”


The glaciers, which regulate the water supply to the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Mekong, Thanlwin, Yangtze and Yellow rivers are believed to be retreating at a rate of about 10-15m (33-49ft) each year.
Hundreds of millions of people throughout China and the Indian subcontinent – most of whom live far from the Himalayas – rely on water supplied from these rivers. Many live on flood plains highly vulnerable to raised water levels. And vast numbers of farmers rely on regular irrigation to grow their crops successfully.
A study commissioned for the WWF indicated that the temperature of the Earth could rise by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in a little over 20 years.
Allowing global temperatures to rise that far would be “truly dangerous”.Nepal, China and India are already showing signs of climate change, the WWF report claims.
Nepal’s annual average temperature has risen by 0.06 degrees Celsius, and three snow-fed rivers have shown signs of reduced flows. Water level in China’s Qinghai Plateau wetlands has affected lakes, rivers and swamps, while India’s Gangotri glacier is receding by 23m (75ft) each year.
The Gangotri glaciers, which form the major chunk of Ganga water, has been retreating at the rate of 34 metre every year. It is now quite apparent that the melting glaciers are threatening the volumetric flow rate of Ganga, Brahmaputra and Yamuna which will ultimately affect the crop yield and drinking water supply.
While the sea level rise is going to affect the entire shoreline of India, a very large area of the Ganges delta will be totally submerged affecting millions. There are indication of sea level rise. Two islands in the Sunderbans area have already vanished from the map. 6,000 people had to be relocated here because there land is under water.
As the waters rise, it is expected that the entire delta region, home to the legendary Bengal tiger, will be submerged.

Scientists have already warned that global warming will reduce crop yields, spread diseases and cause loss of biodiversity and will also pose economic risks to water supplies, food production, electricity, road and rail infrastructure and coastal livelihood.
India’s agriculture depends largely on the monsoons and with rainfall pattern changing, western and central areas of India could have up to 15 more dry days annually while the Northeast is predicted to have 5 to 10 more days of rain each year. Which means that the areas which are dry will become drier and wet will become wetter. There will be longer droughts in some areas which will reduce wheat and rice yield.

Farmers Suicides – Is the changing climate responsible ?

A World Bank study has claimed that climate change and farmer suicides in India are corelated. The report says that poor farmers were unable to adapt to changing climates, which forced them fall into debts. Richer farmers were not affected because they had the resources to shift to other crops that suit the changed climate pattern. According to the study, in Pennar basin of Andhra Pradesh, decrease in yield is directly related to increase in temperature.

Hydropower projects & greenhouse gas emission

Latest scientific estimates show that large dams in India ar responsible for about a fifth of India’s total global warming impact. The study titled, “Methane emission from Indian Large Dams” estimates the total generation of methane from India’s reservoirs could be around 45.8 million ton, more than the share of any other country in the world. These gases are produced by the rotting of the vegetation and soils flooded by reservoirs, and of the organic matter (plants, plankton, algae, etc. Large dams have been known to be emitters of greenhouse gases like methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide for over a decade now.
Indian hydropower projects are already known for their serious social and environmental impact on the communities and the environment. The fact that these projects also emit global warming gases in such significant proportion should further destroy the myth.

Mumbai, Chennai risk floods: UN

Many of the world’s largest cities like Mumbai and Chennai on the sea coasts and at the mouths of the great rivers face a considerable danger of being flooded due to extreme climatic events as a result of global warming, says a report.
Coastal cities are increasingly at risk from seaward hazards such as sea level rise and stronger storms induced by climate change, says a recent report released by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).Sea level rise, especially if combined with extreme climatic events, would flood large parts of coastal cities, says ‘State of World Population, 2007’.The report adds that sea level rise would also introduce salt water into surface fresh water and aquifers, affecting cities’ water supply, and modify critical ecosystems supplying ecological services and natural resources to urban areas.
The population especially when concentrated in large urban areas within rich ecological zones can be a burden on coastal ecosystems, many of which are already under stress, it added.Pointing out that the best way to prevent such a scenario would be to avoid policies that favour coastal development, it asked for a better coastal zone management.
Talking about other dangers that big cities will face due to global warming, the report says, dry cities like Delhi will face acute water crisis.In a vicious circle, climate change will increase energy demand for air-conditioning in urban areas and contribute to the urban heat island effect through heat pollution. Heat pollution, smog and ground level ozone are not just urban phenomena; they also affect surrounding rural areas, reducing agricultural yields, increasing health risks and spawning tornadoes and thunderstorms, it said.
The report further pointed out that changes in average and extreme temperatures or in intensity and length of seasons can have significant influence on things such as economic activities (for instance, tourism), productivity of workers, use of urban space for social interactions and water distribution etc.It mentioned that drought, flooding and other consequences of climate change can also modify migration patterns between rural and urban areas or within urban areas increasing the number of ‘environmental refugees’.

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Vanishing Species – Common Palm Civet

An Article by Mohan Pai

Common Palm Civet
Paradoxurus hermaphroditus

Also called as the “Toddy Cat” for its fondness of toddy liquor.
The Common Palm Civet is also called the Toddy Cat. The name comes about because this creature is apparently fond of drinking from vessels put in palm trees to collect sap for making toddy or palm sugar. It is also known as the Asian Palm civet or ‘Musang’.
It is distributed from Kashmir, the Himalayas, and Assam southwards through the whole of the Peninsula, except in the desert zones of Sind and Punjab. Eastwards, Burma and the Indo-Chinese and Malay countries. This civet is more common and abundant in well-wooded regions. It lives much on trees, lying curled up by day among the branches or in a hole in the trunk. Near towns and villages large mango trees or palm trees are a favourite shelter. But it is a highly adaptive animal and can live in dense forests, agricultural lands and even in the heart of crowded cities, selecting a roof, an outhouse or drain as a place of hiding. Pineapple and coffee plantations are a favourite resort in the fruiting season.
Common Palm Civet Characteristics
The Common Palm Civet weighs around 3.2 kg (7 lb) and has a body length of 53cm (21 inches). The Common Palm has a tail length of 48cm (19 inches). It’s long, stocky body is covered with coarse, shaggy hair that is usually a greyish colour.The Common Palm Civet has black markings on its feet, ears and muzzle. It also has three rows of black markings on its main body.The markings on it’s face resemble a raccoon’s. It’s tail does not have rings, unlike similar palm civet species. The Common Palm Civet has sharp claws which allow it to climb trees and house gutters.
The Common Palm Civet is a nocturnal omnivore. Its primary food source is fruit such as chiku, mango and rambutan (a medium-sized tropical tree). It also has a fondness for palm flower sap which, when fermented, becomes ‘toddy’, a sweet liquor.The Common Palm Civet is also fond of coffee cherries. They eat the outer fruit and the coffee beans pass through their digestive tract. An expensive coffee called ‘kopi luwak’ is supposedly made from these coffee beans. Kopi luwak is said to have a gamy flavour and sells for more than $100 per pound.Common Palm Civets will eat reptiles, eggs and insects as well.
Common Palm Civets live in tropical forested habitats, parks and suburban gardens where mature fruit trees and fig trees grow and undisturbed vegetation.
Both male and female have scent glands underneath the tail that resemble testicles. It can spray a noxious secretion from these glands. The common palm civet is solitary, nocturnal and arboreal.
Common Palm Civets spend the day asleep in a tree hollow. Common Palm Civets are territorial.Common Palm Civets reproduce throughout the year although it has been recorded that kittens are most often seen from October to December. Kittens are born in a litter of 2 to 5 young. Palm civets become sexually mature at 11 to 12 months. In captivity the common palm civet can live up to 22 years. Young are born in tree hollows or in boulder crevices. During brief periods of mating and when the females have their young, the civets occupy resting trees together.
Common Palm Civets forage mainly at night. The likelihood of encountering predators during the day may have favoured nocturnal foraging behaviour. The activity period, from around 6pm in the evening to 4am in the morning, is influenced by daylight. Palm civets become active only after dark and retreat to rest sites just before dawn.When foraging in the same area, civets repeatedly use the same resting trees. Resting trees with vines and holes are preferred by the civets and are used for several consecutive days.
Interesting facts about the Common Palm Civet
In Sri Lanka, the palm civet is known as ‘Uguduwa’ by the Sinhala speaking community. In most parts of the island, the civets become a menace to the people due to fact that it litters in ceilings and attics of common households and then makes loud noises at night disturbing the sleep of the inhabitants of the house (noises are mostly due to their movements and fights).
Palm Civet Conservation Status
Common Palm Civets are classed as ‘Least Concern’. It is plentiful in its natural range.
References: S. H. Prater ‘ The book of Indian Animals’, Wikipeddia.
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Vanishing Species – Red Panda

An article by Mohan Pai

The Red Panda
or Cat-Bear
(Ailurus fulgens)

The Red Panda is a “Teddy Bear” come to life.

The hills of Darjeeling are famous for a cute, cuddly and endearing animal-the Red Panda or Cat Bear. A small furry animal, the red Panda is almost as big as a reasonably sized domestic cat. It is chestnut red in colour, with its leg and underparts of a darker, almost blackish hue and has small white patches on the eyebrows and cheeks. Its pointed, cat-like ears and ringed markings on the tail give it a catlike appearance, the flat feet and bear-like paws have given it a bear like gait, and hence the epithet of cat-bear. However, it is neither a cat nor a bear.

The red panda has given scientists taxonomic fits. It has been classified as a relative of the giant panda, and also of the raccoon, with which it shares a ringed tail. Currently, red pandas are considered members of their own unique family—the Ailuridae.

The fur of red pandas is used to make hats and clothing by local people in China. The fur hat with its long, luxurious tail at the back looks beautiful and warm. In Yunnan Province, this type of hat is still desired by newlyweds, because it was regarded as a talisman for a happy marriage in the past.

Habitat and Distribution

Red Panda, live in temperate climates, in deciduous and coniferous forests, usually with an understorey of bamboo and hollow trees. This makes them a key species of these forests and indicators of forest health. They are found in the Himalayan region, in parts of Nepal, Bhutan, Mynammar and in the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. Most of the red pandas of the world occur in China, whereas the majority of the Indian population occur in Arunachal Pradesh.

Unique Characteristics

The adorably cute red panda, also known as cat bear and lesser panda, is largely herbivore and an endangered species. Slightly larger than a domestic cat though their big, bushy tails add another 18 inches. They use their ringed tails as wraparound blankets in the chilly mountain heights. An adult red panda in the forest weighs around 4 kg. The lesser panda has retractile claws and, like the Giant Panda, it has a “false thumb” which is really an extension of the wrist bone. Thick fur on the soles offer protection from cold. The pelage is reddish – orange on the body with a long bushy tail. Their ears and areas around the eyes are white with black “tear drops” running from the eyes to the throat. These intricate white markings on the face of a red panda makes it most conspicuous.


The red pandas almost exclusively eats bamboo (mostly leaves, supplemented in the spring with bamboo shoots). It sometimes supplements its diet during the summer with fruit. It has also been reported occasionally to eat a wide variety of other items including berries, blossoms, fungi, seeds, acorns, eggs, young birds, small rodents, and insects.

These animals spend most of their lives in trees and even sleep aloft. When foraging, they are most active at night as well as in the gloaming hours of dusk and dawn.
They are shy and solitary except when mating. Females give birth in the spring and summer, typically to one to four young. Young red pandas remain in their nests for about 90 days, during which time their mother cares for them. (Males take little or no interest in their offspring.)

Conservation Challenges

Red pandas are declining over much of their range due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Forests are being cleared for timber extraction, agricultural development and livestock grazing even within national parks and wildlife reserves. This has resulted in the loss of nesting trees and the bamboo understorey on which the species feed. The red panda is also hunted for its pelt, which is used to make traditional hats and clothing in China. Moreover, they are also caught in the wild and kept as pets in certain parts of India and Nepal.


References: Wikipedia

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Charles Darwin – A tribute

February 12th, 2009 marked the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin who holds a rightful place along with Galileo, Copernicus, Newton and Einstein.

(12 February, 1809-19 April,1882)

Darwin’s Evolution Theory Survives, Thrives and Reshapes the World.

When the 22-year-old Charles Darwin sailed into the South Seas in 1831 onboard the HMS Beagle, a survey ship being sent out by the British Admiralty, little did he realise that he had embarked on a path-breaking voyage that would connect up his ideas and revolutionise the nascent field of genetics and then, at an ever quickening pace, with molecular biology, ecology and embryology. Today, 150 years after Origin of Species, Darwin’s legacy is a larger, richer, more diverse set of theories than he could have imagined.

Beagle returned to England in October of 1936 and the young, self-taught naturalist’s treasure trove of the journey was immense: a collection of 368 pages of zoology notes, 1,383 pages of geological notes, a 770-page diary, in addition to 1,529 species in bottles of alcohol and 3,907 dried specimens, not to mention live tortoises caught in the Galapagos.
Milestones along the way included experiencing the great diversity of species in tropical Brazil and discovery of fossils, including a giant sloth 400 miles south of Buenos Aires, which caused him to ponder how these creatures became extinct. Account by gauchos

1831: Darwin leaves on a five-year around-the world journey on HMS Beagle

on the Argentine pampas of their killing of indigenous peoples taught him about the primal, territorial impulses of the human animal. And of course, there was a relatively brief, five-week stay in the “frying hot” Galapagos, where he was able to contemplate how closely related species of turtles and mocking birds inhabited neighbouring islands, implying a common ancestry for both groups.In this anniversary year, Darwin’s greatest bequest can be found in the enormous body of research and theorising that extends directly from his writings. It also serves to underline how evolution itself has undergone radical alteration in the past 150 years, a merger of the original theory with science of the gene, which Darwin had as little understanding of as the ancients did.


Charles Robert Darwin. At the age of 51, Charles Darwin had just published On the Origin of Species.

Darwin is the first of the evolutionary biologists, the originator of the concept of natural selection. His principal works, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) marked a new epoch. His works were violently attacked and energetically defended, then; and, it seems, yet today. Charles Robert Darwin was born at Shrewsbury. His father was a doctor and his mother was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood. Darwin first studied medicine at Edinburgh. Will as they might, it soon became clear to the family, and particularly to young Charles, that he was not cut out for a medical career; he was transferred to Cambridge (Christ’s Church, 1828), there to train for the ministry. While at Cambridge, Darwin befriended a biology professor (John Stevens Henslow, 1796-1861) and his interest in zoology and geography grew. Eventually, Darwin came under the eye of a geology professor, Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873). Just after a field trip to Wales with Sedgwick during which Darwin was to learn much from “Sedgewick’s on-the-spot tutorials” and was to develop “intellectual muscle as he burnt off the flab” — he was to learn, that, through the efforts of Professor Henslow, that he had secured an invitation to go aboard the Beagle, which, apparently, was being outfitted by the admiralty for an extended voyage to the south seas. In a letter, Henslow was to advise that “you are the very man they are in search of.” Desmond and Moore were to write: “The admirals were scouting out someone to accompany Capt. Robert FitzRoy on his two-year survey of coastal South America. FitzRoy, only twenty-six himself, wanted a young companion, a well-bred ‘gentlemen’ who could relieve the isolation of command, someone to share the captain’s table. Better still if he were a naturalist, for there would be unprecedented opportunities. The ship was equipped for ‘scientific purposes’ and a ‘man of zeal & spirit’ could do wonders, Henslow enthused. Charles might not be a ‘finished naturalist,’ but ‘taking plenty of Books’ would help, and he was the obvious choice.”Needless to say, though there was some anxious moments, Darwin was accepted by those responsible for the voyage. The plans for the cruise of the Beagle were extended, in that it was to take place over the best part of five years (1831-36) and was to take in the southern islands, the South American coast and Australia. While aboard the vessel, Darwin served as a geologist, botanist, zoologist, and general man of science. It was rare to have aboard a sailing vessel of the early 19th century a person who could read and write, let alone one, such as Darwin, who could appreciate the necessity of applying scientific principles to the business of gathering data and carrying out research on it. Darwin gained an experience which would prove to be a substantial foundation for his life’s work; the almost immediate result was the publication of his findings in 1840, Zoology of the Beagle.

The Voyage of the Beagle

“When on board H.M.S. Beagle as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin of species- that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me, in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years’ work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.” (Darwin’s opening paragraph to The Origin of Species, 1859.)

As “Darwinism” became widely accepted in the 1870s, amusing caricatures of him with an ape or monkey body symbolised evolution.

It was likely Darwin’s reading of Adam Smith which led Darwin to his decisive breakthrough. (“Adam Smith was the last of the moralists and the first of the economists, so Darwin was the last of the economists and the first of the biologists.”) Darwin read not only about those “laws” that govern the accumulation of wealth, but also those “laws” which lead to being poor. In regards to these poor “laws,” Darwin read Malthus’ Essay on Population: “In October 1838, that is fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus’ Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence [a phrase used by Malthus] which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be a new species. Here then I had at last got hold of a theory by which to work.” Personally speaking, Darwin, directly on account of his early adventures (with his evidence and his conclusions: zoological, botanical, geological and paleontological), could no longer subscribe to the teachings of Genesis, viz., that every species had been created whole and have come through the ages unchanged. All the evidence supports (and none exists that disproves) the proposition that life on earth has evolved; life started out slow and small, and our current state of existence is as a result of some process working upon natural materials throughout a period that consists of millions and millions of years. The question for Darwin is what is this process, a question which, for twenty years, Darwin worked on. He considered his own personal experiences which were considerable and the data that he had gathered. He read and read widely; he abstracted the learned journals; he talked to breeders of domesticated animals. And only after years of work did Darwin feel himself ready to express himself. More years were to pass, during which he gathered more and more evidence, when, in 1859, Darwin came out with his scholarly presentation, The Origin of Species.

Darwin’s shattering work, The Origin of Species, came out (“a sell out in one day”); it is now recognized as a leading work in natural philosophy and in the history of mankind. Simply stated, Darwin’s theory is that things, and, in particular, life, evolves by a process which Darwin called “natural selection.” “Currently we accept the general idea that biological development can be explained by mutations in combination with natural selection. In its essential parts, therefore, Darwin’s theory of development has been accepted. In Darwin’s time mutations were not known about; their discovery has led to extensive modifications of his theory, but it has also eliminated the most important objections to it. …We are beginning to see that the awesome wonder of the evolution from amoeba to man – for it is without a doubt an awesome wonder – was not the result of a mighty word from a creator, but of a combination of small, apparently insignificant processes. The structural change occurring in a molecule within a chromosome, the result of a struggle over food between two animals, the reproduction and feeding of young – such are the simple elements that together, in the course of millions of years, created the great wonder. This is nothing separate from ordinary life. The wonder is in our everyday world, if only we have the ability to see it.” (Alfvén’s Atom, Man, and the Universe.) Darwin’s “evolutionary and comprehensive vision” is a monistic one, it shows that our universe is a “unitary and continuous process,” there does not exist a “dualistic split,” and that all phenomena are natural. Darwin’s idea, it is written, “is the most powerful and the most comprehensive idea that has ever arisen on earth. It helps us understand our origins … We are part of a total process, made of the same matter and operating by the same energy as the rest of the cosmos, maintaining and reproducing by the same type of mechanism as the rest of life …” (Sir Julian Huxley.) The theory of evolution is no longer just a theory; an overwhelming amount of evidence has accumulated since Darwin. Darwin’s theory has never been successfully refuted. Darwin discovered a law just as surely as Copernicus, Galileo and Newton discovered laws: natural laws. Just as the earth is in orbit and has come to be and is depended on the force of gravity, a natural law; so life has come into being and exists and is depended on the force of natural selection. One need not necessarily understand the why or the how of it, but a natural law such as gravitation or selection nonetheless exists, whether a particular puny human being, or group of them believe it or not. The theory as presented in Darwin’s The Origin of Species, I should say, was not new to the world and it cannot be attributed to Darwin. The theory, contrary to popular belief has been around since Aristotle and Lucretius. Darwin’s contribution is that he gathered indisputable evidence, and he set forth a theory on how evolution works, the theory of natural selection. Darwin: “It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapses of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long past geological ages, that we only see that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were.”

Darwin’s book The Descent of Man was published in 1871 in which he tied the human lineage to primate ancestors, provoking outrage in some quarters and the caricaturing of his image. Darwin had avoided discussion of human evolution in Origin of Species, but his The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex attributed human beginnings to Old World monkeys, an assertion that also offended many.

We will let Julian Huxley sum up Darwin’s place in the history of science: “Darwin’s work … put the world of life into the domain of natural law. It was no longer necessary or possible to imagine that every kind of animal or plant had been specially created, nor that the beautiful and ingenious devices by which they get their food or escape their enemies have been thought out by some supernatural power, or that there is any conscious purpose behind the evolutionary process. If the idea of natural selection holds good, then animals and plants and man himself have become what they are by natural causes, as blind and automatic as those which go to mould the shape of a mountain, or make the earth and the other planets move in ellipses round the sun. The fact that evolution occurs became accepted by the scientific community and much of the general public in his lifetime, while his theory of natural selection came to be widely seen as the primary explanation of the process of evolution in the 1930s, and now forms the basis of modern evolutionary theory. In modified form, Darwin’s scientific discovery remains the foundation of biology, as it provides a unifying logical explanation for the diversity of life.”

References: Scientific American (January, 2009), Wikipedia, The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online, Peter Landry in Biographies.

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